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Stop being presstitutes – a reply to a journalist’s “plea”

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Dear Rahul Pandita,

A few admissions to begin with.

I will not quote Camus to support what I am going to say, lest you dismiss it as an example of virtue signalling, the way you mock your ‘friends’ who help their wives clean up after dinner. Besides, I believe that those of us who are not ‘Yale World Fellows’ simply do not have any business quoting Nobel Laureates without first mastering the fine art of doing so out of context.

Let me also say that I do not follow you on Twitter, and I couldn’t care less about what you actually do (your bio does not specify if you are a journalist, writer or artist. You may well be all three, but let us not go there). I am writing this because I am very impressed by your ability to make a threat look like a plea, even while you almost admit the truth in the very accusation you seek to argue against. Your patronizing tone is the stuff textbooks are made of.  I also love the BuzzFeed-ish list of ‘Five links on every Modi supporter’s Facebook wall’ bit, because you know very well that your condescension and prejudice will be cheered by those you defend, without ever having to bother about the inconvenience of facts.

You warn your (erstwhile?) friends and us (other Modi supporters) to stop calling you and your fraternity ‘presstitutes’, because as a writer or a journalist (is there a difference between the two that I am not aware of?), you can be far more creative in coining terms (“Internet Hindus”, “Bhakts” etc). We should be very scared. Perhaps you do not realize, but the profession you are batting for used to once pride itself on presenting facts and perspective, and not a proficiency in creative coinage. The term commonly used for that sort of thing is advertising, where one is paid to sell a product, service or idea. So, the point you seem to be making is that there is little difference between the talents required in advertising vis-a-vis those required in journalism, and we agree!

Of course, you are not admitting that a lot of creative thinking has gone into ‘looking into the hold and writing about the sweat and the blood and the flesh that the oars extract’, but to us unwashed masses who order computers from vendors with an orange-ticked Twitter DP, it is a pretty telling comment. After all, it is unthinkable that we can ever find ‘good deals’, because most of them seem to land up at your doorstep. What to do? We are like this only.

Your puff-piece also deftly implies that it is only Modi-supporters that call journalists presstitutes. By extension, therefore, all others that are called presstitutes (and there are quite a few) are either not journalists in your view, or better still, deserve this title. Lovely. I marvel at your genius of being able to juxtapose Modi supporters and neutral journalists at all times and in all situations.

On the subject of journalism itself, allow me to borrow from your fraternity’s style and quote irrelevant instances from two decades ago.

I worked as a cub reporter in CR Irani’s newspaper, The Statesman, while I was still in my teens. To this day, I am fascinated by the dogged fearlessness with which he pursued the Bofors case, producing solidly researched evidence in his ‘Caveat’ every Sunday, long after the case had ceased to matter in public perception. It did not matter to Irani whether it was the flavour of the season, or whether his columns were helping the circulation of his paper. He did what he considered to be his bounden duty, until the day he died. He did not need to occupy airtime every night (because he was never invited to studios though many were thriving by then), nor did he have to seek validation from others of his ilk. He just said and did what he felt was right, and till date, I have not heard anyone accusing him of malice or ill-will towards the Congress or the Gandhi family. Which is not to say that he may not have had preferences or favourites, or that the Congress may have found in him a difficult adversary, and not done anything to shut him up. It simply means that he did not play victim-victim with his cosy club.

There are others like him around, even today, though they are few and far between. Take a senior journalist who never got due credit for busting Bofors, for example. Or another feisty lady who uncovered some of the most creatively executed financial scams in this country. Mind you, they too are unsparing in their criticism of the current Prime Minister of India (or BJP, if that sounds better). They get a fair share of criticism (and perhaps trolling) from all sides but perhaps they have not aligned themselves enough with your standard-operating-procedure for a place in the pantheon of celebrated independent journalists who deserve the prized moniker of ‘presstitute’. Have you ever wondered why?  A few examples might help ease the indignation in your heart and mind.

Take this tweet of your dear friend – The Matador of Madison Square, who felt (we assume, since not being specific is your perennial alibi), that the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award (which we are assuming is an independent award) to a fellow journalist, was a sad day for journalism. True, this fellow, the so-called journalist, made the mistake of seeing things differently from you, but does giving him an award tarnish the great profession of journalism itself? Ironically enough, the same event later ended up giving your fraternity an orgasmic headline to paint the country red (literally), but that is another story.

Moving on, here’s another example of how your ilk accurately represents the prevailing mood among citizens. Just yesterday, ABP News’ Twitter handle ran a poll on whether the Modi Government was targeting Arvind Kejriwal. In his show, this fiercely neutral journalist reported the results of this poll.  The sample size was nearly 10k votes (which is a tad higher than some state-wide exit polls you experts opine on), and the results on Twitter were only marginally different (Twitter: No – 79%, TV Show: Yes – 52%).

ABP poll results. Twitter vs TV. Abhisar Sharma

How reckless of us to point this out, when he has stated (this morning) that the poll was not yet closed when he published the results. I tell you, this new trend of calling polls before the actual results are out is catching on fast, eh? And just as it is perfectly logical, he brings in ‘beef’ into his argument to strengthen his point! We are daft. We do not understand that polls can be published at any point as results when they aren’t yet final. Maybe the Patanjali Kesh Kranti oil that is so liberally advertised on such channels is not doing its job well, although it does pays for a part of your compensation?

There are far too many examples of such creative thinking and bold, fearless, hard-hitting journalism if you care to look around. Some of the jobless ones from our side have put some together, but their temerity deserves your highest contempt.

We may be wannabe liberals who say the right things about gay rights. But, we aren’t yet mature enough to be flaky on issues such as intolerance. While on that specific subject, I would also venture to offer a piece of unsolicited advice. Please choose your friends and fraternity carefully. A few weeks ago, you were liberally defending Shahrukh Khan and using his utterances as proof that India is unbearably intolerant and hurtling towards the dark ages. Here, the same artist mocks some of you for twisting his words to suit their line of thinking. Of course, this has nothing to do with the impending release of his film like he repeatedly reminds us, but do help us decide whom to believe in this case. Are we allowed to surmise that SRK is calling some of you ‘presstitutes’?

True, some of us are quacks (lousy medical practitioners in your exalted vocabulary). We are also people who make the mistake of wanting glory for India, unlike you, when you say, “I don’t want any greatness for it.” (I hope you note that I have only quoted that portion which suits my argument, to let you know just how much I appreciate this ability of yours). But pray tell us if it is right for you to be so dismissive of our views. Of being so intolerant towards our opinion. And relegating everything we say to the dustbin of troll-trash! Are words like ‘looking-inward’ and ‘introspection’ reserved only for Mr. Modi, the BJP and his supporters.

You say journalism is not about singing paeans to a particular man or government. How silly of us to believe otherwise. After all, the investigative reporting of the National Herald case by multiple channels, and the criticism of Arvind Kejriwal for using abusive language for the Prime Minister is out there for all of us to see. Why, you even interviewed Subramanian Swamy, without once insinuating that it was he who was accused of wrong-doing, and not the Gandhis. I have witnessed how journalists fight every battle with reason, and never lose their composure when confronted for being ‘liberal’ with facts. Most importantly, you are not one of those who uses the argument, “see, all sides are abusing me”, as irrefutable proof of your absolute objectivity and lack of bias.

I know you do not give much credence to the fact that while senior journalists do the important job of mocking the Prime Minister for his clothes and keeping a count of the miles he is clocking in air travel, we, on the other hand end up criticizing him for petty matters such as the flip-flop on cricket with Pakistan, shortfall in disinvestment targets and so on. What do we know?

You will rightly think of me as stupid to believe reports that say that India’s Ease of Doing Business rankings have significantly improved. Or that our Index of Industrial Production is growing at rates not seen in a decade. Hell, there is even data establishing that the number of communal incidents in the country are much lower under this government. True, those are not as relevant as the ability to build a perception and seed the cocktail and lecture circuits, but we have no option but to make do with facts as our source of sustenance.

I could go on and on, but if you have read thus far, and still not got the point, chances are you never will/ do not want to. I am hoping otherwise, given my nature as an optimist, and a believer in the power of change.

You have two choices now. Be a man and make your peace with ‘Presstitutes’. Or introspect, reflect and course-correct.

Because if you don’t, there is a good chance that the word Press itself will become a synonym for shameless whoring. Your collective creativity may not be enough to stop that from happening.

About the author:

Arvind Agrawal is a citizen who cannot put himself today in the service of those who practice journalism. He is trying to be at the service of those who suffer it. He paraphrases Camus when it is convenient. His troll handle on twitter is @factorator.

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